Packing that Perfect Pickle Punch – Ten Tips for Firm Quick Pickles

There is nothing worse than opening a jar of homemade pickles, biting into one, and finding that they are all soggy and nasty. Blech! OK, nothing worse might be slight hyperbole, but you know what I mean. Many MFPs I know don’t even like making homemade pickles because they get so soft. But alas, I am here to help! Here are my top ten tips for keeping pickles firm and crispy – from the least, to most useful (in my humble opinion – I did reorder quite a few times). This is the publication where I got some of this info – here.

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10. Always use cucumber varieties meant for pickling – a pickling cucumber and cucumber for your salad were bred for different purposes.

9. Don’t bother with alum. OK this one is more of a tip of what not to do, but some recipes you will see, especially online or in older pubs, still call for alum. It actually doesn’t do much for your quick pickles, but may be somewhat useful in fermented pickles. So skip the alum and try #4 instead if you want.

8. Pickling lime.  The calcium in lime will help firm pickles. However, lime also lowers the acidity, so you have to soak cucumber in water multiple times following the soaking in lime to remove the excess lime for safety. It does really work, but to me it’s too much work.

7. Soak cucumbers in ice water. This helps firm the veggies as well, I could postulate on why but couldn’t find a good source for why it works. Perhaps it hydrates them, and the cooling keeps them firm somehow too. Ahem, because science.

6. Grape Leaves. Some people swear by using a grape leaf in each jar of pickles for keeping them firm, but apparently a grape leaf’s tannins keep the cucumbers firm by counteracting the enzymes found in the blossom end (see number 5). Thus, if you removed that the grape leaf may not add any more. But maybe you missed a blossom end, who knows.

5. Remove the blossom end. When your cucumber is growing, the bottom end of it is called the blossom end (where the flower was). Trim this end off of your cucumbers, as it contains enzymes that soften pickles. Just a little sliver off the end takes care of those enzymes.

4. Pickle crispPickle crisp is a Ball product, but I’m sure others make it too, as it is simply calcium chloride. Pickle Crisp helps keep pickles firm because the calcium helps firm the pectin in the cucumber, the same way lime does.

3. Don’t pickle over-mature cucumbers – start with a good quality veggie. Yes, sometimes the garden gets away from us and there are suddenly some big ole cucs on the vine and we are tempted to pickle them anyways. Don’t bother, unless you like mush. Big cucumbers may be hollow, or just be softer in the middle where the seeds are growing. Chop those up for your salad. Yes, I realize what I said in #10, but it works in this direction.

2. Pickle immediately. If you have your own garden this is easier, but do your best to pickle cucumbers as soon after picking them as you can. If buying them, ask the farmer when they were picked, or at least process them as soon after buying them as you can. Cucumbers will lose their firmness the longer you wait. Within 24 hours is ideal.

1. Low temperature pasteurization. To me this is the number 1 way to keep pickles firm, and often one overlooked because a lot of people don’t know it’s a thing. It might not be more important than using a good quality cuc to start with, but I put it first because so many people don’t know about it. Basically, overprocessing pickles can cause them to become soft. With low temp processing, you can process the recipes from this publication PNW 355 at 180-185 F instead of a full rolling boil. It works, it really works. For more on that see my experiment from last year – here.

Get picklin’!

July Garden Tour

We’ve been having nearly 100 degree heat the past week or so and the garden is love love loving it. Here’s a little tour! It’s amazing how much has changed since my June 1 garden tour.

Tomatoes loving the heat.

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Broccoli. Wishing I got it in earlier because this heat’s not doing it any favours.

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The first few roma VF tomatoes.

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Pepper experiment is looking awesome! They are also loving the heat. So far I’d say no differences between the pepper sizes, however they are about to that size where the competition within a pot of multiple peppers might be starting to matter. Soon we’ll have peppers coming out our ears!

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The first bell pepper.

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The first jalapeno.

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More tomatoes. I am really making an effort to prune this year and keep them better guided into their cages than in previous years. I think it’s going well.

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The whole yard. I think I do pretty well with the little space I have 🙂

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Pretty purple pole beans.

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Climb climb climb.

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More tomatoes, basil, and calendula.

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The chaos of a calendula, tomatoes that grew from seed on their own, and some dill that also grew on it’s own.

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Brandywine tomato.

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Carrots and cucs.

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The cucumbers are also loving this heat. I planted the exact same cucumbers as the last two years, like from the same exact seed packet, and the leaves of these plants are HUGE compared to last year. It’s going to be a gooooood cuc year.

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Massive zuch!

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Beets that really need to be eaten.

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Indigo rose tomatoes.

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Peas are dying, so I’m going to pull them shortly and plant some more beans. I’m definitely doing a better jobs at succession planting this year too.

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And that’s all folks! Having a good garden year?

Refrigerator Dill Pickles

The beginning and end of pickle season is the perfect time for making refrigerator pickles. My pickling cucumbers are starting to come in, but not in such huge numbers that I want to pull out the canner and process them, so the refrigerator pickle is really the way to go. These pickles also have the benefit of being so quick to make, and are often the crispest pickles you’ll have all year, since they don’t get processed in the canner.


This recipe is sort of from Ball, but I do it a bit differently, so you are also welcome to check out their recipe if you prefer.

Ingredients (for 1 quart jar):
1 cup water
1 cup vinegar (5% acidity, white or cider are great)
3 tbsp pickling or canning salt
2-4 cloves garlic
2-4 heads of dill or 1 tbsp seed
2-3 tsp mustard seed
1 tsp peppercorns
hot pepper flakes if you want hot pickles

Here’s how I made them:

Pick your cucumbers, wash them and make the pickles as soon as possible for the crispest pickles. Always remove a slice off the blossom end, because it contains enzymes that can soften your pickles. Slice your cucumbers however you desire. If you do spears or try and do whole cucumbers you will use more brine than if you do slices and pack them tightly of course, so usually I cut up my cucs to see about how much I have, then make a little extra brine just in case.

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Combine the water, vinegar and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil to dissolve the salt. If you want your pickles a little sweeter, add a tablespoon of sugar too. Remove from heat.

Heat your jars up a bit so they don’t break when you add in the brine. I just wash them in really hot tap water then leave them full of hot water while I get out the spices and peel the garlic. Then, empty the water. In each jar place whatever spices you desire. My ingredient list is what I do, but feel free to explore. Use the ratios provided of vinegar, water and salt, but do whatever you like with the spices. Don’t like garlic? (you’re crazy!!) then don’t add any. Want it really dilly? Add more heads of dill, or use both fresh and seeds. Want it spicy? Add a tsp or so of red pepper flakes. Have a pre-mixed pickling spice? Great, just use a tablespoon or so of that.


Fill the cucumbers into the jars, packing them in fairly tightly. Pour the brine into the jars to cover the cucumbers. Just make sure you either let the brine cool a little, and/or have nice warm jars still, because otherwise you could have jar breakage. The alternative (how Ball does it) is to heat up the brine with some spices in it, then throw the cucumbers in there after boiling it and let that cool to room temperature, then fill the jars. Your choice. If you did it my way, let the jars cool to room temperature, about a half hour or so, then refrigerate. I like to give the jars a bit of a shake a few times too, to distribute the spices more. You can also shake it up a bit every couple days, but it’s not essential. Enjoy the pickles after waiting 2 weeks, and within about 3 months of making them for best quality.

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